Since I turned 40 I've always been nervous about developing breast cancer. My mom was diagnosed at that age and died shortly after her 42nd birthday. I was diligent. I always ate healthy, only drank bottled water, never smoked, rarely drank a glass of wine, worked out, nursed my children, did monthly self examinations and went for yearly mammograms. Because I had very dense breasts before I turned 40, I had had 3 biopsies and even discussed a mastectomy with my breast surgeon who didn't feel I had enough risk factors at that time. When my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (I was 48), I had a total hysterectomy and took Evista.
July 2012 (almost 63 yrs old), we moved and I felt a lump on my left side which hurt so I thought I had injured myself during the move. (After all we always were told breast cancer doesn't hurt!) Then a lymph node on the left side of my neck popped. Since I managed a dermatology practice, I asked one of the doctors what it was and he advised that I should go to my PCP if it didn't go away within 2 weeks. But my left breast kept hurting so I decided to go right to my radiologist for a mammogram on 8/17/12. (I had my yearly in April 2012 and breast doctor visit the end of April 2012). My radiologist called me into his office to tell me I had advanced breast cancer. I was stunned! And how could he know that without a biopsy? He also showed me my scans from April and August and the first set was clear -- the second set showed a white haze over 80% of my left breast. How could this be? The doctor said I should go out for lunch and come back in 2 hours so he could do a biopsy so we would know the type, etc. When I got out of the office I called my dear husband and told him I needed him immediately and that we were both in trouble (he knew about the doctor visit so he knew what I meant by that). Needless to say, we never ate the lunch we ordered. We sat there in disbelief and utter shock. Two hours later I had my biopsy and my radiologist told me that he had called my breast surgeon and told him what was going on. My breast surgeon wanted me at his office right after. He was in surgery and was going away for the weekend but would not leave NYC until he met with me.
My breast surgeon was also in shock and kept going over my last visit. He sent me right to an oncologist and we decided to do a mastectomy with full lymph node dissection (they knew it was in my nodes). My surgery was exactly one week later (ER+, PR+, HER2/Neu-, 16/26 positive nodes, stage IIIC) and I started on dose dense AC & T 2 weeks from my surgery.
I am the type of person that has to digest everything internally by myself for a day and then I think about how I'm going to deal with and conquer a situation. Luckily I have a wonderful husband who understands me and is my rock when I initially fall apart.
Throughout my chemo and then 33 radiation treatments, I worked which kept me strong and focused all the time. I did my chemo late Friday afternoons and was always back at work early Monday AM; I spent most of the weekend in bed. But Saturday nights I made sure I got dressed, made up, and we went out. I wanted my life to be more than cancer. When I could, I would see my granddaughter and then granddaughters (there are 2 now) on a Sunday. I am very blessed that I have a huge circle of friends and family that are 100% there for me. My sister and my cousin were my chemo buddies (dear husband made me feel too nervous because I saw how he looked at me the first time I had my chemo). My dear husband and dear daughter picked me up from my chemo treatments which was pretty amazing since my dear daughter worked in Europe at that time but she arranged to have a business trip to NY the weeks I had my chemo.
In Aug 2013, I had a right partial mastectomy and reconstruction. After my second fill I developed cellulitis, was hospitalized, and lost the left tissue expander. I waited a few months and did fat grafting to the left side. Again, I ended up with cellulitis and another hospital stay. Waited a few more months, when my left side looked good, did another fat graft and was fine. I waited again and had right tissue expander exchange and left a very small implant. During this time I was on anastrozole with minimum side effects.
In December 2014, I decided to make my life less stressful, took a new job in the city and convinced my dear husband we needed to move into NYC when our current lease was up so we could be closer to our dear daughter who had moved back to the U.S. January 2015 my tumor markers went up for the first time so my medical oncologist sent me for scans which showed a regional reoccurrence (left clavicle and left inframammary lymph nodes). My medical oncologist was not very reassuring so I switched my care to MSKCC where I was put on Ibrance/Femara. Although my tumor markers kept going up, my first set of scans only showed indefinite activity on my spine. Tumor markers kept going up (except for one month) and next set of scans on October 1 showed mets to 5 spots on spine, liver, right underarm lymph node. Stage IV for sure now. I recently started a clinical trial at MSKCC for GDC 0810. Thus far pretty manageable.
Since my original diagnosis, I have taken an alone vacation with my dear daughter every summer -- the last two summers in Europe -- a gift from my dear husband to me. I want her to have the memories of these wonderful trips and he understands how important this is to me since I lost my own mom when I was 19. There is nothing better than spending time with those you love! This summer my dear husband and I took one of my bucket list trips -- to Turkey and Greece. Next year if I am up to it we'll go to Israel. I want to spend more time with my delicious granddaughters but that's always an issue so I try not to stress over that (daughter-in-law has no heart and son is weak!).
I get my strength from those I love. I want to beat this breast cancer for them. The one thing that does upset me is that I have sort of shied away from my father and stepmom since my latest diagnosis. My step mom can read me so well and I'm afraid she'll figure out something is wrong. Even on the phone she keeps asking me is something wrong! I hate to shut her out but my Dad is 94 and this would tear him apart.
-- Babs6287, diagnosed metastatic in January 2015
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of Breastcancer.org nor are they intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians.